Employee Appreciation Day – We Can Do So Much Better

Ad image from TV show "The Middle"Recognize This! – Employees deserve appreciation every day, not just one day of the year.

Today is Employee Appreciation Day. I’ve shared in the past why this day irritates me, but it does serve one good, valid and useful purpose – to remind us that employee appreciation day should be every day. (Like St. Valentine’s Day serves as a reminder of the love we should share with others or St. Patrick’s Day as a reason to celebrate the Irish in us all.) I worry the designation of a specific day will lead some to think they can concentrate all of their recognition efforts solely on the first Friday in March and not purposefully and intentionally thank, acknowledge or praise their employees throughout the rest of the year.

How we think about, implement and follow through on employee recognition has changed so dramatically throughout the last couple of decades, Employee Appreciation Day feels like a throwback to a more traditional time when pizza would be ordered for lunch, a “Thank You” banner would be hung on the wall, and leaders would think their mission of appreciation is accomplished.

We can (and we should) do so much more – both for ongoing, frequent, timely and specific recognition as well as for acknowledgment of major milestone anniversaries for employee length of service. I bring up the latter as an excuse to share this video clip, sent to me by an American client who thought I’d find it funny. (Click the link to watch the video as I’m not able to embed it directly here.)

The video is an episode of an American sitcom called “The Middle” about an average family, the father of which is employed at a local limestone quarry. Key time slots and dialogue excerpts are below:

At the 3:52 mark:

  • Frankie (mother of the family, said to Mike, her husband): “Look at this. They’re honoring the guys at your quarry. Uh, Mike, one of them is you. ‘Michael Heck and Robert Branderson are being honored for their 20 years of service to Orson Limestone.’ There’s a dinner. Did you know there was a dinner? Of course you knew there’s a dinner. Were you ever going to tell me this?”
  • Mike: “No, I wasn’t.”
  • Frankie: “Mike, you have to go! This is a big deal.”
  • Mike: “It’s not a big deal. The whole thing is stupid. I just stayed in place for 20 years. It’s like giving an award to a tree.”

At the 6:23 mark:

  • Frankie (to the family assembled at the dinner table): “The quarry is giving your dad an award for his 20 years of hard work.”
  • Mike: “It’s not important.”
  • Brick (son): “What’s the award for? Did you lift a boulder off somebody?”
  • Mike: “No, for 20 years I showed up.”

These two conversations are telling for several reasons:

  1. Traditionally implemented long service programs are often poorly celebrated, making the day feel like just another day for the recipient.
  2. Though this is just a TV show, I’m sure Mike did many things during the course of his 20 years that powerfully and positively impacted his crew, his customers and his company. That’s much more than “just showing up,” yet traditional years of service programs celebrate only the number of years achieved and not the major accomplishments, contributions and successes throughout those years.
  3. In the episode, Mike fights hard about going to the awards dinner. He is a private guy who doesn’t enjoy the spotlight. A dinner in which he’s required to give a speech is not a rewarding experience for him. And that, too, is common in traditional employee anniversary programs – recipients often have great difficulty choosing a rewarding experience that’s personally meaningful and memorable to them.

Use the reminder of today to think about how you can improve the everyday appreciation experience of every employee as well as the major milestone anniversary celebrations of your employees. In both cases, engaging the crowd – the people around us every day – to share in the celebration activities and make past achievements more memorable is by far a better recognition (and appreciation) experience for everyone.

What’s your best recognition experience at work?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

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